William S Burroughs
Language is a tricky thing. It is a broken, imperfect system of encoding and decoding a message. If the encoder and the decoder have the same key, the message may be heard and understood as it was intended. If the encoder and decoder have different keys… bad things.
The encoding and decoding takes place on many levels and often carries around a lot of baggage.
If I am in a conversation and someone says:
It probably means they are from, or have spent a significant amount of time in Philadelphia.
If someone says:
“We need to assign some resources to work on this project.”
It probably means they have been trained to manage or work with projects using a traditional (waterfall) approach.
When I took my CSM training I sat in a room full of 40 software developers. When I referred to people as “resources”, they boo’d me... literally.
In Agile, and in traditional project management we both use resources on our projects. But, because Agile takes care to focus on “Individuals and Interactions”, resources are generally considered to be things that do not have opposable thumbs and a capacity to binge watch five seasons of Breaking Bad in a 3-day weekend.
The way we use language infects our interactions with individuals. In this TED Talk, Diane Benscoler talks about being deprogrammed from the cult she had joined as a young woman. In the talk she refers to a “viral memetic infection”. This is, simply put, how language can be utilized to hack the brain.
In working with people on a project, if I regard them as individuals I work and interact with, I am likely to behave differently towards them then I would if I were to regard them as resources I expend to get work done (like a stapler). This can appear in very subtle ways – or, at least, ways that seem subtle to the non-Agile.
When I first began working in Agile I stumbled over a lot of similar encoding/decoding issues. The more experience I got with it, the more I learned how important it was to translate ideas before they passed my lips. As I would speak with someone about the project I was still thinking in waterfall, but speaking in Agile. I’d think “resources” but say “team members”. And that helped a little. At least, I thought it did. To other PMs, it sounded very Agile, but being a little further on with it now, I do feel it is fair to say that language aside, intent shows through. If I am thinking “resources” but saying “team members”, the fact that I have not truly bought into the Agile mindset still shows through to those who do think of individuals and interactions.
If you are in the process of trying to transition from traditional to Agile, it is important to bear this in mind. There is often a significant difference between how we perceive ourselves and how we come across to others. I may believe I am able to fit in with the Agile folks once I learn to speak their language. Certainly that is a massive improvement over not doing so, but being able to speak the language and adopting the behaviors and value systems are not the same thing. One may lead to the other, but being aware of the fact that it is an ongoing process is an important art of not destroying your credibility along the way.
Day 1 of Agile 2013 is in the books. There are over 1,700 Agilists who have gathered in the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville to sharpen up their skills in all things related to Agile. For those who are unable to attend, Projects at Work and BigVisible Solutions are co-sponsoring interviews with speakers, attendees and vendors who are participating in the event. Our goal is to provide updates for you throughout the event so that even if you weren't able to join us in the Gaylord Biosphere you will be able to keep pace with what's going on. For the rest of the week, keep checking back here for new interviews and show news brought to you by Projects at Work and BigVisible.
Here are some of the interviews we shot today:
Interview with Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson on how well the Agile Manifesto has maintained it's applicability since it was created back in 2001 and an update on the Agile Atlas.
David Bernstein offers some details on his Agile 2013 presentation on how the kinds of questions we ask ourselves and others can help us become better collaborators, coaches, and impact our very quality of life.
Jim Elvridge explains the importance of not just relying on data and paying attention to you intuition in Agile.
A product update on LeanKit's new advanced predictive simulation features from CEO and co-founder Chris Hefley.
Chris Sims gives an update on the talks he is giving here in Nashville on Business Value Estimation in Agile and the importance of Active Listening.
We'll have lots more tomorrow, so keep checking back for more.